Friday 16 May ~
The histories of the two clubs competing in last night's League One play-off semi-final second leg are very different. Prior to their long fall from grace, Leeds lost 3-0 to Valencia in a Champions League semi-final on May 8, 2001, whereas at this stage in the season in 2004 Carlisle were contemplating a season in the Conference, having lost 18 of their first 21 games. Last night however both were playing for a place in the Championship. Thanks to another last-minute goal Leeds will now be in the play-off final on May 25.
After the first-leg in which on-loan Leeds striker Dougie Freedman scored in the sixth minute of stoppage time to reduce Carlisle's 2-0 lead, the home side's manager Gary McAllister stated: “I've got a feeling that this tie is going to go right to the final minutes up at Carlisle as well.” Though this was clearly a psychological ploy to unsettle his opponents this is exactly as it happened. The scorer of both goals last night was Leeds' latest locally born talent Jonathan Howson, who turns 20 next week. Leeds fans might not see this as a reassuring indication of the health of their youth system, however. They may well be producing good players but it is generally other clubs who see the benefit.
Tonight's second semi-final is between Doncaster and Southend. The first leg at Roots Hall was a fiercely contested goal-less draw which included a 87th-minute dismissal for Doncaster striker Paul Heffernan following a headbutt on Southend's Peter Clarke. While Southend are hoping for an immediate return to the Championship, if Doncaster win the play-offs it would be their first season at the second level since 1958.
But Leeds await the winners and so Ken Bates will get a day out at the refurbished Wembley. According to his duties, Football League chairman Brian Mawhinney will also be present. A meeting between the two men could be interesting – when Leeds' appeal against their 15-point deduction was rejected earlier in the month Bates reacted by saying: “I think Lord Mawhinney should resign and go back to Northern Ireland.”